Carissa, Natal Plum - Carissa grandiflora
Flower and fruit

Carissa from Julia Morton's book Fruits of Warm Climates

Carissa grandiflora Natal Plum, Common Carissa from the University of Florida pdf

South Florida Tropicals: Carissa (Natal Plum) from the University of Florida pdf

Carissa 1984 from the Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia

Carissa from the Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia

The Carissa from W. Popenoe's book Manual of Tropical and Subtropical Fruits

Natal Plums Num Num from Eat the Weed and Other Things Too

Carissa Botanical Art

Fig. 1


Other Information

Origin: Southern Africa (KwaZulu/Natal)

Family: Apocynaceae

Common names: natal plum, common carissa

Pronunciation: kuh-RISS-uh gran-dif-FLOR-uh

Height: 6-10 feet

Spread: 4-10 feet
Plant habit: densely foliated shrub; multi trunked or clumping stems; spreading; upright
Growth rate: moderate

Leaf: evergreen; glossy, dark green foliage

Flower: white, summer flowering; pleasant fragrance

Fruit: oval berry; red, thin skin; flesy
Season: all year, peaking Sept. through Nov.
Damage temp. 29F

Light requirement: full sun to light shade

Soil tolerances: clay; sand; acidic; alkaline; loam
USDA Zones: 9b-11
Salt tolerance: good

Drought tolerance: high

Pest resistance: long-term health usually not affected by pests

Plant spacing: 36-60"

Roots: usually not a problem

Invasive potential: not known to be invasive

Known hazards: the plant has very sharp spines; some may find the latex mildly irritating

Carissa grandiflora is one of Florida's and California's very best seaside shrubs (Fig. 1). This moderately fast-growing, evergreen shrub has lustrous, leathery, rich green, oval leaves and spines along its branches. It is hard to find a plant with darker green leaves. Flowers are somewhat fragrant, white, and star-shaped. The bright red, edible, plum-shaped fruit tastes like cranberries and can be used to make jam. Flowers and fruit are quite showy and are often borne on the plant simultaneously. 1

The carissa macrocarpa is a ground cover: Carissa macrocarpa Dwarf Natal Plum from the University of Florida pdf

Thorn close-up Carissa grandiflora (natal plum): leaf, flower, thorns and fruit Acrid latex exuding when picked unripe

Fig. 2

Wicked bifurcate thorns

Fig. 3

Carissa grandiflora (natal plum): leaf, flower, thorns and fruit

Fig. 4


It has opposite thorns on the stem that branch into two sharp points. Leaves are bright green and round. The flowers are 30mm-50mm (1½" to 2") in diameter, white and fragrant. The 5 petals are twisted to the right. 5

Fruit Flesh
Fig. 5    Fig. 6   


The fruits of the carissa (Carissa grandiflora) are oval or round and vary in size and shape. A typical fruit is approximately an inch in diameter and one and a half inches long. The skin of the fully ripe fruit is bright crimson streaked with darker red; it is thin and bruises easily. The flesh is deep red or crimson with white mottling. In the center there are approximately twelve small brown flat seeds.
The fresh fruit has a mild, slightly pungent flavor, is slightly granular in texture, and is somewhat astringent. When bruised, broken, or cut, the fruit and branches exude a white latex. This substance is harmless, except that it may be irritating if it comes in contact with

the eye. 2

The fruit production peaks around Thanksgiving and some people favor it over cranberries. If picked too soon, the flesh will exude very acrid white latex (Fig. 4).

Flower Fruit, flower and leaves Carissa macrocarpa
Fig. 7 Fig. 8 Fig. 9

The plant blooms most profusely in early spring, but produces a few flowers throughout the year. The flowers bloom singly or in small terminal cymes at the end of the branches. Flowers are star-shaped, fragrant, white, and approximately 2 inches broad. The fruit matures in approximately 60 days, yielding most of its fruit in the summer. Carissa is not usually available in commercial markets. It is most often grown in South Florida. 2

Flower buds Flower buds
Fig. 10  

Fig. 11

Trunk is short and woody Branch Leaf growth habit
Fig. 12 Fig. 13 Fig. 14


The carissa may be eaten fresh but it is more enjoyable when cooked. The cooked juice and pulp have an unpleasant milky-red appearance but become an attractive bright red when cooked with sugar. The jelly has a lovely red color with a delicate, characteristic flavor suggestive of raspberry. The sauce, made by straining or sieving the stewed fruit and cooking it with sugar, is preferred by some to cranberry jelly.
The white latex in the fruit forms a rubbery, sticky ring around the pan in which the carissa are cooked. To remove, rub with a piece of dry paper towel or with a coarse bit of cloth soaked with salad oil. Do not use steel wool or an abrasive powder as these make the sticky substance more difficult to remove. This fruit may be used canned or frozen; as jelly or preserves; in salads, sherbets, and sauces; or as a juice for punch. 2

USDA Nutrient Content pdf

Species distribution
Fig. 15

Natural growth habit

Fig. 16

Natural Growth habitt 

As a hedge As a tiered tree As a rounded bush Credit: © MR,

Fig. 17

As a hedge

Fig. 18

As a Tree

Fig. 19

As a Bush

Along our coastal areas, carissa has been used for a hedge since it is highly salt-tolerant and can be planted in exposed locations with little chance of being damaged. One disadvantage is the shrub's large spines which are forked at the end, sometimes exceeding two inches in length. Because of its spiny nature, carissa has long been used as a privacy hedge or people-stopper, since an attempt to penetrate a hedge of carissa is rare. It should not be used in areas where small children frequent. While most people use carissa as clipped hedges forming a dense screen, it is not uncommon for it to attain a height of 20 feet at maturity. 4

Natal Plum will tolerate a variety of soils and exposures and only needs light pruning. It makes a nice, full foundation shrub. While it thrives in full sun, natal plum can adapt to fairly heavy shade and requires only moderate watering and fertilization. Plant on three to six-foot centers for a hedge or mass planting, closer for the compact cultivars. 1



By seed, expect germinatation in about 2 weeks, but the seedlings grow very slowly at first and are highly variable. Vegetative propagation is preferred and can be done easily by air-layering, ground-layering, or shield-budding. Cuttings root poorly unless the tip of a young branchlet is cut half-way through and left attached to the plant for 2 months. After removal and planting in sand, it will root in about 30 days. Grafting onto seedlings of the karanda (q.v.) has considerably increased fruit yield.

Seedlings may begin to produce fruit in 2 years; cuttings earlier. 1

The selections 'Fancy', 'Gifford' and 'Torrey Pines' are said to be of good fruit bearing quality.

Note: All parts of Natal plum are poisonous except for the ripe fruits. Even the seeds within the fruits are said to be poisonous. Natal plum should not be planted close to pedestrian traffic because of its sharp spines. 3



Bonsai; foundation; screen; border; mass planting; container or above-ground planter; fruit; espalier; ground cover; superior hedge; small parking lot islands (< 100 square feet in size); medium-sized parking lot islands (100-200 square feet in size); large parking lot islands (> 200 square feet in size). 2

Diseases and Pests

Die back is common. Spider mites, thrips and whiteflies, and occasionally scale insects, attack young plants, especially in nurseries and in the shade.

A number of fungus diseases have been recorded in Florida; algal leaf spot and green scurf caused by Cephaleuros virescens; leaf spot from Alternaria sp., Botryosphaeria querquum, Fusarium sp., Gloeosporium sp., Phyllosticta sp. and Colletotrichum gloeosporioides which also is responsible for anthracnose; stem gall from Macrophoma sp., Nectria sp., Phoma sp., Phomopsis sp., and both galls and cankers from Sphaeropsis tumefaciens; dieback caused by Diplodia natalensis and Rhizoctonia solani; thread blight from Rhizoctonia ramicola; root rot resulting from infection by Phytophthora parasitica and Pythium sp. 1

Netlike, wavy, superficial colonies; algal leaf spot on Camilla

Fig. 20

Netlike, wavy, superficial colonies; algal leaf spot on Camilla

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1 Gilman, Edward F. "Carissa grandiflora Natal Plum, Common Carissa." This document is FPS107, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication Oct. 1999. Revised May 2007. Reviewed Feb. 2014. Web. 3 Jan. 2015.

2 Simonne, Amy, Bobroff, Linda B., Cooper, Anne, Poirier, Sandra, Murphy Mildred, Osward, Mary Jo, and Procise, Chris. "South Florida Tropicals: Carissa (Natal Plum)." This document is Fact Sheet FCS 8522, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. Publication date: July 2004. First published as SS-HEC-12, May 1993. Revised Aug. 2007. Reviewed Nov. 2010 and Nov.2013. Web. 3 Jan. 2015.

3 Christman, Steve. "Carissa macrocarpa." 4 Dec. 2000. Updated 9 Nov. 2003. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.

4 Joyner, Gene. "Carissa". Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia. June 1984. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.

5 Goebel, Roger. "Carissa". Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia. RFCA Capricornia Branch. June 1984. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.


Fig. 1,8 Carr, Gerald,D. "Autocarpus altilis Moraceae." N.d. University of Hawaii, Botany Department, Manoa Campus Plants. Web. 3 Jan. 2015.

Fig. 2,17 Starr, Forest and Kim. "Carissa macrocarpa thorn". 2002. Kahului, Maui. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.

Fig. 3 Wmpearl. "Carissa grandiflora (natal plum): leaf, flower, thorns and fruit." 2008. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.

Fig. 4,16,18,19 MR. "Carissa macrocarpa." N.d. Top Tropicals Tropical Plant Catalog. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.

Fig. 5,6 JMK. "Cross section of a ripe fruit of a Big num-num at the TUT campus, Pretoria." 2013. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.

Fig. 7,10,11,12,13,14, Kwan. "Carissa macrocarpa, Natal plum." 2009. Web. 3 Jan. 2015.

"Species Distribution Map: Carissa macrocarpa." N.d. Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.

Fig. 9 Girard, Dennis. "Carissa macrocarpa." N.d. Wunderlin, R. P., and B. F. Hansen. 2008. Atlas of Florida Fig. Fig. 15 Vascular Plants. [S. M. Landry and K. N. Campbell (application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research.] Institute for Systematic Botany, University of South Florida, Tampa. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.

Fig. 20 Thornton, Holly. "Netlike, wavy, superficial colonies; algal leaf spot on Camilla." 2006. University of Georgia. Web. 5 Jan. 2015.

Published 3 Jan. 2015 LR. Updated 12 Oct. 2015 LR

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